VALRICO — When Susan Prestrige was appointed to the Campo Family YMCA board of directors she vowed to uphold the organization's Christian principles, which in addition to encouraging physical fitness, includes ministering to neighbors in need.
Toward that end, she currently serves as chairman of the social responsibility committee and was lead volunteer representing the Valrico Y at the recent Gift of Hope's distribution of Christmas toys for children and food to families in the greater Brandon community experiencing hardships.
Prestrige and her team of close to a dozen fellow Y members loaded up their cars with the Campo Y's collection of 1,225 holiday presents and joined other Gift of Hope volunteers and donors from a host of area churches at the First Baptist Church of Brandon.
In turn, they assisted a host of mainly single moms who had gathered to select gifts for their kids amid a myriad of choices. The Campo Y clan then wrapped, carted and loaded them along with a bagful of food into each parent's vehicle.
In total, contributions from the Campo Y members and other gift givers from nine churches throughout the community served close to 800 people who otherwise would have had few or no presents to open and little to eat on Christmas Day.
Recipients were required to pre-register at Brandon's Emergency Care Help Organization or at the churches involved in the annual endeavor. The effort began in 2009 and is modeled after a similar holiday program at Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa.
"To me it's a joy to give to others in need," Prestrige said. "When they have no hope, it gives them hope."
She also gave kudos to Campo Y's water aerobics instructor Libby Trautman, who alone collected $1,007 from her students, enough to purchase 437 toys.
"She has such a passion to give back to others in her community," Prestrige said.
Carol Scheafrocker, also a Campo Y board member, said she makes it a priority to contribute to the project every year.
"The community has such a big need and these people are so appreciative," said Scheafrocker, donning a Santa hat as she stood at a wrapping table, fully devoted to her task at hand.
Across from her was fellow Y member Peggy Clarkson, adorned in a red and green elf-ears headband. She, too, kept busy, wrapping gift after gift of playthings and books for kids.
"It's the season of giving and we want to make people happy," she said.
Nearby was Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA District Development Director Dwight Kerr, sporting a long-sleeved dress shirt and tie. He, too, was there to lend a hand, mainly with the non-stop flow of children's gifts that needed wrapping and labeling.
"Giving back to the community is part of the Y's mission and it's the right thing to do, especially at this time of the year," Kerr said.
Clarissa Pettiford of Riverview, the mother of four children, couldn't have been more grateful for the cart-full of presents she chose for them free of charge.
"It means a lot to me because I'm a single mom and right now I'm really struggling," she said. "I thank God and these people so much."
Brandon resident Rosa Lopez, also a single mother of two with a baby due in February, was equally appreciative of the opportunity to provide a nice Christmas for her youngsters complete with a holiday dinner, thanks to the generosity of individual donors and area merchants including Publix, which provided gift cards for each of the families.
In addition to an assortment of small toys for her children, she took home a bicycle for her 12-year-old daughter, who she was certain would be overjoyed to receive something she's wanted for a long time.
"This is a huge blessing," Lopez said. "I love everybody here and I want to give back when I am able and I want my children to, too."
Campo Y member Terry Bass, who donated items to the cause and was on hand to assist Lopez and others in loading gifts into their vehicles, was equally thrilled to be part of the Gift of Hope project.
"It's very fulfilling to see the end result," he said. "You live in an isolated neighborhood and when you get to see the other side, it puts everything into perspective."
Contact Joyce McKenzie at [email protected]